UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo – Karate


Nagahama Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

On a small subtropical island such as Okinawa, it is usually physically impossible to take a road less travelled. However, if you are up to the challenge, you may find a certain small karate dojo in Yomitan to be just that rarely available detour.

When I got to Okinawa, I didn’t know a lot about martial arts, though I knew that Okinawa was considered the birthplace of karate in Japan. And, after having watched the Karate Kid movies, I thought it would be great to learn the way of karate at its source. The only problem was that I wanted to study it for my own personal satisfaction and self-improvement, not to fight in the ring or perform for others to see and judge on the tatami.

There are many places on Okinawa that will teach you the basic moves of karate, on and off the military bases. Luckily, I did not know about them when I saw the UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama Yomitan for the first time. The location, environment, students and, of course, the sensei all made a positive impression on me. My intuition did not let me down since the philosophy, principles, and rules of the Uechi Ryu style have also appealed to my senses.

Surprisingly, the teacher (Seizan Sensei) is an American – trained almost wholly here on Okinawa, licensed and certified a true “Hanshi Kyudan” – a 9th degree black belt holder – and the only foreigner residing in Japan holding that rank level in the UechiRyu system. He began training in UechiRyu in 1974 in the States, but has been training on Okinawa since 1979. He teaches classes 50/50 in Japanese and English, so there was no barrier to learning the finer points and more subtle philosophies of the art.

His Okinawan wife (Sumako) teaches Yoga on Saturday mornings, too, and is a licensed Thai Masseuse. That’s right – all this under one roof!

Most importantly, this dojo offered me an opportunity to train and practice alongside my husband and daughter as opposed to just sitting outside and waiting for the session to be over. An ability to study the principles of karate as a family has been paramount in our quest to embrace this particular way of life. We don’t compete at tournaments in this dojo, so there is no pressure to beat total strangers senseless in front of family members!  The dojo is a place where one can do physically challenging exercise, relax with a green tea and a snack during the break period, or it can be a healthy psychological outlet after a long day when you leave all your problems outside the screen door and just practice karate for a few hours.

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

As time passed, the learning process allowed me to understand that true karate is not simply a martial art, but a life art – a true lifestyle. Personally, I can apply the knowledge gained long after I leave Okinawa.

Directions: Finding the dojo can be difficult at first, since it is tucked away off the main roads. From Kadena Gate 1, turn right on Hwy 58 (heading north). Turn left off 58 onto Rt. 6 as if going to Torii Station. Continue past Torii Station northward passing Max Value, later a fire station on your right, followed by a large elementary school also on the right just after the fire station. A bit further ahead you will come to a T-intersection with a stop light. There is a gas station on the right – take that right. Go straight to a 4-way intersection with mirrors on both sides of the street, and an apartment building on the corner. Go down that road – it will begin a downward and then suddenly curve to the right, then to the left, and again to the right, continuing downhill toward the ocean. A final sharp turn in the road to the right will reveal the UechiRyu Dojo around that corner an on your left. It’s a white building with a sign painted on the top. The dojo is downstairs, with a black double door facing the road.

Phone: Ask for Seizan Sensei or Sumako at 098-958-1075 (after 6:00 p.m.), or by cell phone at 090-7390-1335 (anytime).

E-mail:[email protected]

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  • August 31, 2015

    Many of the foreigners i have encountered in Okinawa –since my venue here, had told me something along this line : This island is a wonder. The people, the food, the many sightseeings events and landscapes..its distinctive culture –all contribute to create that sense of marvel rarely experienced anywhere else.

    For me, the choc of being in Okinawa –of living here, came almost as an afterthought. After almost two years here, i came to remind myself that i had finally reached the birthplace of Karate.

    I had practiced Karate Shotokan for several years before. At the time, if the grueling physical training we were subjected to acted as an outlet for my youthful stamina, the demanding precision of moves and stances needed during kata performances was what really appealed to my nigh compulsive persona. Practicing katas always centered me then.
    But as time passed, more and more emphasis was put on kumite sessions and competitiveness, to the detriment of kata and kihon practices –both of which for me embodied the spirit of any martial art. So i stopped practicing altogether.

    All that changed when i visited the UechiRyu Zankyokai Karate dojo in Yomitan a few months ago. Truth be told, my deciding to go to this particular dojo was more happenstance than forethought –i was skimming through this Okinawa Hai leaflet and stumbled upon the picture of the Yomitan dojo. “Let’s see this”, i thought to myself, a sense of boredom mingling with a genuine desire to discover another facet the island had to offer. So i went.
    My first impression upon arriving before the building was muffled –to say the least. The dojo didn’t look as such to my gaijin senses. Set in a calm residential area, it was low-built and discreet –and save for my phone GPS and the honcho i took that day, i would have passed it on my first run despite the facade proclaiming its purpose.

    But the real kicker came once i was inside.
    The day’s session had already begun. The attendees –ranged from preschool kids to adults, were practicing katas under the watchful scrutiny of sensei Seizan. This style had forms and stances i’ve never seen before: more fluid and natural than the straightforward Shotokan i had been used to. And seemingly, slightly different in its approach than the Uechi Ryu forms i came here expecting to see.
    (later on, at the end of the class, sensei Seizan will tell me that this style was the original/traditional form of the Uechi Ryu Karate, as taught by its founder, the late Uechi Kanbun sensei. Most of its moves and stances are animalistic, and are borrowed for the most part from a Chinese boxing style. And he added that its philosophy is centered around this simple tenet : ” To learn how to fight, so that one can avoid fighting” (if fleeing is the best way to attain that, then the practitioner should do just that). You do the least to avoid hurting or maiming your opponent.

    And from that moment, i was hooked.

    All classes are an hour and half long, three times a week, and comprised of katas (individual and in group –called “bunkai”. In between katas sessions, strengthening exercises followed by a snack pause. No combat. No competition. Just learning. In part, learning about this art –which is more of a way of life unto itself; and about yourself.

  • April 2, 2014

    Hi Irina, many thanks for a great article! I would like to enter a small
    correction to the directions…

    After the right turn at the gas station and when you get to the four-way
    intersection with mirrors and apartment building, take the left turn. That
    one takes you down the road toward the ocean. Keep straight on that road,
    around the curves and turns, past the Rakuza Restaurant, and the dojo is on
    the left after the last sharp right curve in the road. If there’s space,
    you can park in the building’s parking place (be careful for the cats,
    please keep eyes open for them!). If not, you may have to go down the road
    a bit more, turn, and come back up to park along the other side but down the
    street a bit, near the curve (not in front of the houses being built across
    the street, please).

    Classes are four nights per week (excluding Friday night) from 1900, and
    Saturday from 1300. I don’t usually see students on Monday and Wednesday
    nights, so if you want to attend on those nights, let me know a day in
    advance by e-mail and I’ll open the dojo for training. There is no extra
    cost for this. If no one calls for the dojo to be open on those nights I
    don’t prepare tea or heat the dojo for the class, and keep it closed.

    Best regards,